Katamay Rey and Chuntha are proving to be almost interchangeable. They’ll probably turn out to have different powers or something once they get more involved in the plot – or at least, I hope they do – but right now they send out their minions at about the same time, make contact with their minions demanding results at the exact same time, and lose patience and take matters into their own hands at the exact same time. That last one is what initiates this chapter, as the cyclops and the worm have both moved beyond the range of their respective masters’ ability to make contact with them. Even though they’re different means of magical communication that work slightly differently, they nevertheless both get out of range at the exact same time leading to both wizards to lose patience within a page of each other. The only real difference is this:
The man – the big, strong, handsome, virile man – might be escaping her cluthces even as she lay upon her bed dreading the very thought.
And also Chuntha is naked, for some reason. So, yeah. That’s the singular difference between Chuntha and Katamay Rey: Chuntha is a hot naked chick who really wants to bang the audience insert character. It’s 80s Conan, so it’s not like this kind of thing is unexpected, but still.
Also, Harskell, having retreated from the cavern with one of the bats, is now interrogating a Blind White. I guess Steve Perry just forgot which kind of creature they’d captured on the way out? I double-checked the end of chapter seven, it was definitely a wounded bat they collected on their way out.
Conan and company are sailing on the Sunless Sea, and Conan muses that anyone who tries to swim after them would likely end up devoured by some massive sea monster like the one whose corpse they converted into a raft. But why don’t the sea monsters come after them? They’re paddling a fresh corpse around! It’s still perfectly edible to sea monsters, and so are the passengers. It’s disturbing the water about as much as a swimming creature would. The raft behaves exactly like a wooden boat, though, including deterring predators from attacking because it magically doesn’t smell like meat.
The cyclops and the worm are starting to grow on one another as they continue to pursue Conan and company, finding some detritus of the raft construction and setting out for the Webspinner Plants’ lair in order to get a web boat to chase them with. At the same time, the two wizards are setting out in pursuit with small armies of their minions, so apparently Conan and Elashi have leveled up and the GM is now deploying higher CR opposition.
Wikkell, the cyclops we’ve been following for a while now, and Deek, his worm companion from the other side of the wizard war (now that there’s a bunch of other cyclopes and worms stomping about, I feel the need to actually memorize their names) have come to the Webspinner Plants. They’re plants, and they can shoot webs to ensnare prey. Of course, they’re plants, so they can’t move, but their voices sound like whatever the hearer finds most seductive. Wikkell hears a cyclops woman, Deek hears a worm female ready to spawn a thousand young. There’s even what looks like a surprisingly low-key and accepting reference to homosexuals:
Both cyclops and worm knew that the voice specific to whatever kind of creature heard it: males heard females and females heard males, generally, and only those with strong minds or experience with the plants could resist the siren song they sang.
Like, by modern standards, that’s at best minimally acceptable and maybe even kind of exclusionary by placing the emphasis on heterosexuality being significantly more common than alternatives. But just the fact that they didn’t fuck it up catastrophically is a welcome surprise in 1989.
Initially, the Webspinner queen sounds all seductive and stuff, but when Wikkell offers a steady supply of food in exchange for aid, she switches to a raspy alien voice. I like that the Webspinner has a scary monster voice that it switches to when it’s not trying to lure in prey. In this book, specifically, it’s not really enough to stop me from rolling my eyes at the “seductive siren” thing, but if it were in another book, one that didn’t have fully 100% of its (human) female cast desperate for the main character’s dick, I think it could be pretty cool.
There’s a bunch of haggling over how many Blind Whites and Bloodbats will be given as sacrifices in exchange for services, which is mainly kinda boring and also dumb, because guys you are in a chase, just offer them as many expendable minions as they ask for. One cool thing that does come out of it, though, is that the Webspinner Plants have a root network that allows them to communicate to one another throughout the entire ‘Neath, so the Webspinner Queen offers to catch Conan and company for Deek and Wikkell, because the network already knows where they are.
Conan and company have found a rocky outcropping to spend the night on. Tull takes first watch so Conan and Elashi can boink, presumably while covered in fish guts from having spent the whole day in the hollow they carved out for themselves in their fish raft. Conan takes the second watch, and Elashi decides to sit with him. They boink again, while keeping watch. It’s not like there’s even fully described sex scenes, either. Steve Perry just wants us to know that Conan has lots of sex, even to the detriment of his own survival. Dude acts more like a frat boy than a barbarian whenever Steve Perry’s at the wheel. Also, in the morning, as they begin navigating the Sunless Sea once more, Conan figures out he’s in a pretty misogynist fantasy novel and learns how to use reverse psychology on Elashi. I’m not going to bother quoting it because that’s a lot of effort, the scene is ultimately inconsequential anyway, and I think I’ve put forth more than enough evidence that Steve Perry does this kind of thing for you to just take my word for it.
Deek and Wikkell are getting on swimmingly as they paddle their new web boat together. Deek can’t talk because he speaks by scraping his plates (worms have plates, I guess? I have no idea if this is a real thing or not) along the stone to make noise, since the web isn’t hard enough, but Wikkell thinks pretty similarly to Deek already.
Steve Perry has apparently remembered why he needed Harskell to interrogate a bat, and they use one of their men as bait, lure a bat in, and capture one. Here we learn that the Bloodbats apparently have feeding tubes of some kind. I’m pretty sure this is not a thing that regular vampire bats have. Harskell strikes a deal with the bat: The bats make a boat, and Harskell will give the bats a spell that produces blood. It’s a very D&D kind of spell. It creates “six or seven barrels” of blood and then requires a few days to recharge. Really feels like someone wrote up a Create Blood alternative to Create Food and Water. Also, it may be some kind of magic trick? Harskell is definitely bluffing the bat in general. Either way, the bat agrees, and flies off to get his friends to help build a boat. Because apparently bats now build boats.
So now Conan and company are being actively pursued by Deek and Wikkell in a web boat, by Harksell in a bat-made wood boat that the bats are tugging along from the air to keep afloat, and also by both wizards with their respective entourages. I’m not really feeling the tension increase anymore, though. It feels less like more and more danger is drawing ever nearer and more like they’re playing a game of Snake with villains, growing an ever longer tail. It comes across as more comical than threatening.
Deek and Wikkell continue their very, very obvious arc towards overthrowing their respective wizard overlords. While it is super obvious, I don’t think it’s bad. Like, something surprising would be better, but the arc of two enemies from the oppressed working class of opposed societies coming together to overthrow their collective oppressors is actually a really neat twist on the whole “friends and/or lovers from opposing sides of a conflict” thing, so even though it’s pretty much giving away its ending, I still like it. Plus, I’m not totally sure Deek and Wikkell will both live to see it. Maybe there’s a tragic sacrifice coming.
But also we get fantasy racism:
According to the oral history of the caves, there had been a time hundreds of seasons past when the cyclopes and the worms had gotten along together rather well, living in harmony and bothering no one. The Plants had feasted on the much stupider Whites and bats, and life had been an altogether better proposition than it was under the rule of either the witch or the wizard.
So, y’know, workers of the world unite, but also the untermenschen can be fed to your allies in exchange for web-spun clothes and furniture. This is…maybe a step up from standard Conan racism? The standard being a setting utterly saturated in biological essentialism but without any clear master race. Here, the bats and Whites are apparently sufficiently stupid that they lose all moral standing, despite being perfectly capable of speech, giving a clear species hierarchy. On the other hand, nothing here is human or could be any kind of reasonable allegory for any human demographic I could think of. The Blind Whites are some kind of great ape (just like humans) and are very specifically white, but A) the Death Angels can be racist against white people all they want, they will never have enough influence to be a significant threat unless I personally encounter them in an alleyway, and B) the Blind Whites are put on the same level as the clearly non-human Bloodbats.
So what I’m getting at is that there’s definitely no direct allegory to real world race relations possible here, but the broad narrative of greater and lesser races is definitely out in force.
Anyway, aren’t there a bunch of unintelligent fish in the Sunless Sea? Can the Webspinner Plants eat those?
Anyway, the respective wizards both reach the Sunless Sea, and as per usual, they both have methods of magically traversing the sea that look different but ultimately have pretty much the exact same effect. Harskell’s getting in on the same game, sailing as they are with their bat-pulled boat in a manner that’s different from the magical bridge of Katamay Rey and the ensorcelled worm-boat of Chuntha, but not in a way that actually makes a difference now, nor do I find it especially likely that it will in the future.